Youth development educator drives positive change

Wisconsin Idea stipulates education should influence people’s lives beyond classroom walls
Kevin Passon

Megan Suehring serves as the 4-H positive youth development educator for University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension Shawano County.

Her office is in the county courthouse, but she said her work is located along the many crisscrossed miles that make up Shawano County.

Suehring oversees the Shawano County 4-H program, which includes more than 700 enrolled youth members (grades kindergarten through the year after high school) and adult volunteers that span 19 4-H community clubs and two weekly after-school programs in Gresham and Marion school districts.

“4-H is a positive youth development program that focuses on helping young people build life skills,” Suehring said. “4-H involves youths in project-based education where youths can explore their interests and master new skills. 4-H projects are meant to be hands on to create a memorable learning experience.”

Since 4-H started in the early 1900s, youths have learned by doing. This hands-on process allows youths to understand not only how to do something but also why they are doing it. A part of Suehring’s time is also devoted to driving positive change in Wisconsin communities to promote health and well-being.

“Our research-based programs are focused on mental health promotion, substance use prevention and access to health care,” she said. “We’re working together to help solve the state’s most pressing well-being needs and to ensure that all Wisconsinites have the opportunity to live stronger, healthier lives.”

Youth and mental health is an identified concern that has surfaced repeatedly from Shawano County schools, youth-serving organizations, and coalitions such as the Thedacare Community Health Action Team and Healthy People Shawano and Menominee Counties.

Suehring has been able to access professional development to serve as a local trainer in QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer), Mental Health First Aid (for teens, youth-serving adults and adults), COMET (Changing our Mental and Emotional Trajectory) and Learning to Breathe (for middle school and high school, mindfulness).

“Much of our area does not have access to this type of training for free or reasonable rates,” she said. “Through connections with UW-Madison and several grants (Rural Opioid Technical Assistance), I am able to do just that.”

UW-Extension embodies the Wisconsin Idea, which stipulates that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Extension brings the research of the university to the people of Wisconsin.